EGU Blogs


Geology Photo of the Week #36

The highlighted photo for this week comes from my last trip to New Zealand for the AMS12 conference a few years ago. They were taken at the end of a hiking trail in the Mount Cook area, it is behind the clouds looking straight ahead but you can kind of make out some small glaciers in the distance. However, the interesting stuff is all in the foreground.

These pictures highlight two really interesting phenomena. The first is the massive pile of gravel in the middle of the picture. It is called the Mueller Lateral Moraine and is a great example of a very recently formed glacial feature. Lateral moraines form as big gravel piles along the edges of a glacier, in this case, the Mueller Glacier, which has receded out of the picture.

The Mueller lateral moraine at the Mt. Cook glacier on New Zealand’s south island. (Photo: Matt Herod)

The second cool feature of this image is the water. At first glance, it may just look like muddy water, but there is more to it than that. If you look closer you can see there is some ridiculously blue water in the picture as well. The picture below shows it much more clearly.

(Photo: Matt Herod)

Some cool blue water courtesy of rock flour. (Photo: Matt Herod)

Pretty cool looking water eh?! But, why is it so blue? The colour comes from a substance called rock flour. Rock flour is extremely fine grained sediment that is formed underneath a glacier by erosive action of basal sliding, freeze-thaw or meltwater erosion. The particles are so small that they don’t sink rapidly like a larger stone would, they stay suspended in the water column and change its colour from turquoise blue to milky white, all of which can be seen in this photo. One very interesting thing about this photo is the colour gradients that can be seen and the mixing of the blue stream with the milky pond. You can see the trailers of blue water entering and flowing into the pond and then gradually being diluted with the white water. Also, some little pools of water are super blue, while others are more pale, I imagine this has something to do with the amount of suspended sediment. I don’t really know, but it sure is interesting! Another strange thing is that I would have expected the streams to be white and the ponds to be blue. I am not sure why this inversion is taking place so if anyone has a suggestion I’d love to hear it! Maybe it has something to do with how cloudy it was, I’m not sure. Normally, in when rock flour laden stream enter a lake the lake is blue and the streams are white. Both colours are due to the suspended rock flour, but the colours are inverted here and I don’t know why….

The moraine and the mixing ponds (Photo: Matt Herod)

The moraine and the mixing ponds (Photo: Matt Herod)

By the way, I am starting to run out of photos for this weekly series! I need to get out in the field more, but sadly I am trapped in the lab for most of this summer doing data collection. Therefore, if you have any photos you would like to see highlighted in the photo of the week let me know in the comments below, along with your email, and we can set something up. Otherwise, I’ll have to start posting pictures of plants soon!



Geology Photo of the Week #24

The photo of the week is one that I took in November on my glacial sedimentology class trip to the Buckingham sand pit and at first glance it looks pretty boring. Nothing could be further from the truth though when you consider the implications of this lonely old block sitting al by itself in these sand beds. Also, my apologies for not including a scale. You’ll just have to take my word for it that this block was around 30 cm long and 15 cm high.

This block is called a dropstone. Dropstones are a glacial feature that occur when a stone that is incorporated into an iceberg or ice sheet falls out as it melts, the block settles through the water column and lands on the sediment beneath. The sediment continues to deposit and covers the stone. Because of the block the sand beds warp and deform around the shape of the stone as you can see in the picture. Dropstones are a smoking gun for indicating a marine or lacustrine environment since they can only be deposited in water. In this case the glacier, which was located nearby, was flowing into a large pro-glacial lake called glacial lake Champlain and deposited a huge amount of sand and clay in the Ottawa region as well as numerous dropstones.

A beautiful dropstone in the Buckingham sandpit, Buckingham, Quebec. (Photo: Matt Herod)

It’s all about scales

It has often been said that geology is the study of scales. Time scales, large scales, small scales and many others. Indeed, one of the most crucial parts of any photo or map is the scale. Furthermore, geologic concepts can be applied from the planet scale to the atomic scale and every size in between. What confuses most people though is not only do we work in terms of huge size/magnitude variations but we also work with huge temporal variations. Processes that can take billions of years to nanoseconds all have their place in geology. Perhaps this is part of what makes it such a fascinating science?

Anyway, I thought it might be fun to share a few variations in scale that I have noticed recently.

A large hoodoo in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta. I would say it is around 5m high and the rock on top is at least 5m across if not larger. (Photo: Matt Herod)

Some smaller hoodoos also located in Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta. I woudl say these ones are about 50cm high. By the way, the round object between the two hoodoos at the back is a dinosaur vertabrae. Likely a Hadrosaur. (Photo: Matt Herod)

Some really small hoodoos. I found these on a recent recon trip to a sand pit north of Ottawa near Cantley, Quebec. (Photo: Matt Herod)

Pretty cool eh?! People generally think of hoodoos as big spectacular structures that look like they are performing an incredible act of balance. Hoodoos form through erosive processes on the soft sediment underlying a large rock. They can be formed by wind, rain, or freeze-thaw cycles that erode the soft sediment below the boulder. However, eventually the sediment directly beneath the rock/pebble is protected from above preserving the hoodoo.

Here is another example of how scale has nothing to do with process. What I mean by this is that the same process that forms large features is also capable of forming small ones, like the hoodoos above.

A medium size rat-tail at Cantley Quarry, Quebec. It is probably around 8m long and the rock in the front is about 1m. That is my co-TA, Brett, for scale. (Photo: Matt Herod)

This monster rat-tail is over 50m long! You can see the xenolith in the front where the rusty discolouration is. There is also a smaller rat-tail in the foreground. (Photo: Matt Herod)

A “micro” rat-tail. This tiny one is only a few cm’s long but it still has the same basic structure: comet shaped with an obstacle in the front. Although, in this case the obstacle is a mineral grain and not a gneiss boulder.

Okay, so hoodoos are not the only erosional feature than can be formed at a variety of scales. However, I think these rat-tails are even more impressive than the hoodoos. Rat tails are glacial erosion features that form underneath a glacier by vast, fast flowing rivers of glacial meltwater actually eroding the rocks and forming these streamlined features. The dominant bedrock in the area is a soft marble that contains xenoliths of hard Grenville gneiss. The gneiss acts as a barrier to the meltwater forcing it to flow around it. This protects the marble directly behind the xenolith and forms the rat-tail.

Scales don’t just vary in erosion features though. There are lots of other great examples of scale variation throughout geology.

File:Cristales cueva de Naica.JPG

Massive selenite crystals in the famous “cave of crystals” in Naica, Chihuahua, Mexico with a person for scale. (Image: Wikipedia)

Gypsum (var. Selenite) Fuentes de Ebro, Zaragoza, Aragón, Spain Cristal 6 cm (Author: Enrique Llorens) (Photo: FMF Mineral Gallery – used with permission)

The gypsum crystals of the crystal cave were formed by heated groundwater that was evidently extremely saturated with respect to gypsum. I haven’t done the calculations about how insanely over saturated this water must have been to precipitate crystals this large, but maybe if I’m bored one day I’ll try it out. The chemical formula of gypsum is CaSO4 – 2 H2O. The water filled the cave and the crystals were able to precipitate around 500,000 years ago. The dating method used was U-Th disequilibrium dating.

I have a funny anecdote about the picture of the cave above. I remember when news of the cave hit the media. I was taking advanced mineralogy at the time and someone brought that picture in to show our prof and get his reaction. His first reaction, before doing any research, was that the picture was photoshopped and the cave did not exist. It just goes to show that a) this cave is incredible and b) it is possible to fool mineralogists sometimes.

Small fold in meta-sedimentary rock of the Pinnacle Formation in Sutton, Quebec. (Photo: Matt Herod)

Photo of yours truly demonstrating the curvature of this fold which is also in the Pinnacle Fm. in Sutton, Quebec (Photo: not Matt Herod, but with my camera)

Google Maps image of the Rideau Lakes area north of Kingston, Ontario. Notice the kilometre scale folding in the area and how the lakes conform to the structural geology of the area.

As you can see the study of geology is really all about scale. Every major geologic discovery is required to have context in terms of either the geologic time scale or size. I have given some examples of how size can vary regardless of process. If you have any examples  of scales in geology I would love to hear about it. Please post in the comments below. If your example is in picture form I would be happy to add them to this post.

Thanks for reading!


Geology Photo of the Week #6 – Sept 30 – Oct 5

This is my first official post, besides the welcome post, at GeoSphere – EGU edition. It seems fitting to begin with a post that is part of a continuing series from my old home and is bridging the way to my new one.  The photo of the week, while still only six weeks old, is and will stay a regular fixture on my blog. The photo for this week is of some fantastic glacial striations in glacially polished marble located in Cantley, Quebec, which is about a 40 minute drive from Ottawa and is one of the most popular field trip sites for students from uOttawa.

Glacial striations are an interesting feature. They are pretty much ubiquitous across Canada, but rarely are they so defined as they are in Cantley. Striations form from the abrading action of rocks and sediment particles embedded in the base of a glacier. As the glacier slides across the bedrock it scrapes these sediments along the rock below making these striations. In order to form a striation the glacier must be sliding, which only occurs when there is a little water at the bed-glacier interface to lubricate things. Furthermore, if you look at striations under high magnification you can see that the sliding is discontinuous. In fact, it is a series of perfectly aligned slips of only a millimetre or two that are connected to form a perfectly straight groove up to several metres long. Another great feature about striations is that they can tell us the orientation of glacial movement. Indeed, the parallel lines in the rock below point the way to glacier was flowing. However, it is very difficult to tell the glacial flow direction from a striation since the glacier could have been flowing in either direction to make a straight line. In Ottawa we know from numerous other glacial features that the Laurentide Ice Sheet was flowing roughly from north to south. During the Pleistocene epoch, about 10,000 years ago, glaciers were covering pretty much all of Canada as well as most of Europe. The ice sheet at Cantley was ~2km thick.

Glacial striations at Cantley Quarry, Cantley, Quebec. Click for a larger image. (Photo: Matt Herod)

Thanks for reading!